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DC archbishop to hold Mass for justice on MLK anniversary

YRML2 Archbishop Wilton Gregory at the 2020 Youth Rally and Mass for Life. / Peter Zelasko/CNA

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. will offer a Mass of Peace and Justice on August 28, the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

The archdiocese announced the Mass on Monday, which will commemorate the civil rights march on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” address at the Lincoln Memorial.

The Mass will also be offered on the same date as a newly-planned anti-racism march on Washington, organized by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network with the title “Get Your Knee off Our Necks.” The title is in reference to Minneapolis police using a chokehold on George Floyd, a Black man, who died following the incident on May 25; Sharpton announced the march during a memorial for Floyd.

According to the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic Standard, the mass will be livestreamed from St. Matthew’s Cathedral at 4 p.m.  Joining Archbishop Gregory as concelebrants will be the auxiliary bishops of Washington, Bishops Mario Dorsonville, Roy E. Campbell, and Michael Fisher.

Separately, the website for the march notes that the event will advocate “for comprehensive police accountability reform, the Census, and mobilizing voters for the November elections.”

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Also on Monday, Gregory called on Catholics to participate in the 2020 census. Pointing to the example of the Holy Family and the birth of Christ, the archbishop noted it was a central to the biblical narrative that the event took place during the Roman census of Caesar Augustus.

“A Baby born in a stable in Bethlehem during that census year would probably not have been considered as very important to most people,” Gregory said. “History and faith, however, have placed Him as centrally important in the records of humanity.”

“A national census is an occasion to count people - important people and ordinary people as well. We all count during the census,” said the archbishop.

“I strongly urge everyone to complete and submit the census forms that have come to our homes and to make sure that we include all of the members of our households in that calculation,” he wrote in a column for the Catholic Standard

Gregory called the census “a means to help us achieve vital information that will be used to allocate funds, services and programs that are intended to improve and sustain the lives of all of our citizenry.”

He also acknowledged the fear that undocumented immigrants might have of participating in the census.

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“They might want to conceal their presence within the shadows of fear. They, too, are important for the census,” he said.

Archbishop Gregory is the first African-American archbishop of Washington, D.C.  He previously chaired the U.S. bishops’ Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, which was set up in 2016 amidst racial tensions. A report by the task force in the fall of 2016 addressed race relations, policing, and peace in communities.

On June 5, Gregory participated in an online panel discussion on racism hosted by Georgetown University. He said that the recent protests against racism in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are reasons for hope because “[t]here are many more white faces involved in this response than I ever saw before.”

Gregory also issued a sharply-worded statement on the morning of President Trump’s June 2 visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. On the previous evening, Trump had appeared in front of nearby St. John’s Episcopal church where he held up a Bible in an apparent photo-op. Participants in anti-racism protests were cleared away from the church by the National Guard shortly before Trump’s arrival.

The archbishop said the next morning, just before Trump’s visit to the John Paul II shrine, that it was “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”

He later explained his decision to issue the statement, saying that “the Church lives in society.”

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